The sad end of an era

I think many would agree that when a company with the stature and history of Japan Airlines (JAL) announces it is exiting the maindeck cargo market, the day seems a bit darker, the world a bit harsher. The announcement ends a venerable run in the business that lasted over five decades from its very first […]


I think many would agree that when a company with the stature and history of Japan Airlines (JAL) announces it is exiting the maindeck cargo market, the day seems a bit darker, the world a bit harsher. The announcement ends a venerable run in the business that lasted over five decades from its very first DC-4 freighter service from Tokyo Haneda to San Francisco in 1959.

While JAL Cargo will technically still exist, it’s presence will be significantly diminished without its dedicated freighters and worse still, it will become beholden to the routes and schedules of its passenger side.

The airline is quick to point out however that the belly capacity of its passenger fleet represents three times as much total cargo capacity as its freighter services. But the trouble with that, is that a lot of passenger belly capacity does not necessarily translate into a lot of useable cargo capacity. It simply can’t be leveraged in the same way and it may not be as attractive a product to some of its key customers in that form.

There are really no current comparisons in the industry – it’s tempting to point to the recent example of the Air France-KLM group which transferred freighters to its Martinair subsidiary saying it had enough belly capacity to meet demand. But the key difference is that it still has dedicated freighters at its disposal, whereas JAL Cargo will not.